Horizon Shift ‘81 has no story. In fact, none of these arcade shooters had a real story: just protect this and stop that. What they do have is a legacy; there was no need for anything but good shooting mechanics and varied types of enemies that moved differently and challenged the player – that got people instantly hooked.
From the days of my youth, spending all my pocket money playing Galaga, Asteroids, and Centipede, they had a massive effect on myself and millions of others with how good they were. They were loved for their ‘twitch’ type gameplay and the heart-racing excitement of getting the highest score – I was top for most of these, with my friends. To my adult days, I still love playing these games, as, for myself and millions of others, they are timeless classics with a big shadow to step out from.
Can Horizon Shift ’81 do that? Let’s find out.
Something Old, Something New, and My First time(s)
Horizon Shift ‘81 has enough added extras to keep it fresh while keeping all of the nostalgia of the past. As soon as I installed it and saw the thumbnail icon, I got that old familiar tingle that makes no sense, but I like it. A cube with guns and a face. Loading the game up, the graphics and music were as expected. I was like that kid who was about to school his mates again. I started up the game, expecting a wee square man to be at the bottom of the screen, but it duped me: I was in the middle of the screen. At this point I was excited – it’s new and I am going to own it. I would have loved that to be the case, but no. I was doing fine, for a whole 30 seconds, until the enemies came from underneath. I was getting overwhelmed and then the buggers sat on the line. I died after about 1 minute.
I started again, and did much better, this time I survived for around 3 minutes, but didn’t notice that the projectiles could pass through the middle line. This went on like this for a good few hours before it clicked and I was destroying everything. Going up levels with little to no hassle – bosses excluded, for now, so I sound better than I am – then I got overconfident, a new attack appeared… I was killed again.
This was the hook – I was hooked, so dying and trying again didn’t matter. I was back in the arcade putting coins in the machine like they were sweets.
The Set Up
The game starts with selecting one of four unlocked modes with two modes to unlock. The modes are:
- “Arcade Classic: Classic arcade style gameplay. Start with 3 lives and fight your way through all the levels. Checkpoint on and after every boss battle.
- Arcade Arrange: Slight variation on the classic gameplay. Start the game with 1 life and fight your way through all the levels. Checkpoint after every level.
- Speed Up: Little trickier now! Start the game with 3 lives and fight your way through all the levels whilst the game speeds up after each level. No Checkpoints.
- Hyper Mode: Damn! Start the game with only 1 life and fight to survive at 150% speed. No Checkpoints.”
With Free Mode and Boss Mode to unlock through playing. Also, you can customise each gameplay mode with speed, control layout, difficulty, tutorial on and off, and graphic style.
Time to Play
Once in the game, you start on a yellow line in the middle of the screen called the horizon. You can move left and right, dash, jump, and flip sides. The first wave of enemies come down with only needing one hit to kill them – cannon fodder. Then they appear underneath the horizon so you need to flip sides and kill them too. This is, in essence, the whole game: kill everything on both sides of the horizon.
There are, however, some downsides for not killing an enemy. If you miss an enemy and it reaches the horizon, the game becomes a lot harder. Making it not only a game of kill everything but also dodging. This is where the jump comes in handy. Be warned: you will be overwhelmed quickly.
Luckily, in arcade mode, the levels are set and the enemies’ patterns will always be the same. It’s not always much help, but at least after you have died, you can predict the attacks and get better. Not only that, but when you run out of lives (and that will be often), the game saves what level you are on so you don’t have to start all over.
Power-ups, Bombs, and Bosses
While playing, you will see power-ups float up or down the screen, these will change the damage you can do. There are plenty to pick up, from a shotgun that has powerful projectiles but slow fire speed to a flame-thrower that spews out a fire to burn everything. Not all the power-ups are good and only one can be active at any given time.
While playing, there will be aliens you can save – these give extra points at the end of a level. They are not necessary to collect but do add a challenge. Not only do power-ups change the weapon, but they also power up the classic bomb that wipes out the whole screen. Two power-ups are needed to get the bomb. Bombs are extremely useful if you have friends visiting on the horizon.
While progressing through the levels, a warning will flash up that lets you know when a boss is here. These guys are massive, shoot multiple projectiles in different patterns, and take a lot of hits, as expected. They are also very fun to go up against; learning patterns of fire and which way was best to move.
As expected from an 80’s arcade game, the music and sound effects are right on point. Everything from the ‘pew pew’ from the lasers to the sounds of the ship that you pilot or the shotgun shot all feel like they have weight behind them. Even the ship being destroyed sounds good. What I would have loved is getting about four or five Switch consoles with Horizon Shift ’81 playing on loudspeaker, to really bring back the feeling of being in an arcade – minus the smells.
Visuals & Performance
The visuals are, again, perfect for the arcade feel of the game. There are settings allowing for customisation of the visual style; the default setting makes the screen concave and rounded like an arcade game.
I had no problems playing the game. The only thing that I wish I had was a grip to make the screen vertical. As it supports Tate mode – the screen being vertical – and it would be by far the best experience. I did try this, but balancing the Switch on my knee and trying to play was not fun.
Horizon Shift ‘81 comes in at a meager $9.99 USD, £7.19 GBP. For people who love arcade shooters, this is an amazing ‘pick it up and just go’ type of game. For people who are on the fence and are not too sure, I would still say it is a good price.
For another space epic with an emphasis on management and RPG combat, take a look at Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space.
Simple to play
Quick reflexes required